Drug abuse is becoming a hot topic in Harvey County, with a recent arrest following the theft of opioid pain killers from a Hesston Pharmacy and the county being ranked in the top half of the state for opioid use by the Centers For Disease Control.
That has led to the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce to host a "Hot Topic Luncheon" at noon Aug. 29 at the Meridian Center.
Talking that day will be representatives from the Harvey County Sheriff's Department and the Newton Police Department — two agencies who have taken the lead to reestablish a drug task force in Harvey County.
The reboot of a drug task force, which could include members from every law enforcement agency in the county, is moving along — though there are communities that still have not come on board. Currently Newton and the Harvey County Sheriff's Office have each dedicated an officer to the effort.
The Hesston Police Department wrote a grant for equipment, and has donated a set of night vision binoculars and two audio/video recorders thanks to the Hesston Community Foundation.
But there is still work to do.
"We really need to get together," said Doug Schroeder, chief of police in Hesston. "We need to set it up for success. We need to define and pre-think some things so we know what success is."
Schroeder told The Kansan his department is "all in" when it comes to the task force — and the donated equipment is evidence of that.
Newton Chief of Police Eric Murphy said currently task force policies are being reviewed to make sure everyone is doing things the same as they pursue drug charges. He also said other departments are being, or will be, asked to put forward manpower and funding for the task force
However, work has already begun and busts are being made.
"There are things we can improve on with this," said Chad Gay, Harvey County Sheriff. "But just so people know, we are buying and selling drugs. Our guys are out doing their thing."
Currently one detective from NPD and one from the sheriff's office are assigned to the task force. In January 2018 the sheriff's department has approval for a second investigator for the task force. The search for that officer will begin in November.
"I think we will start looking in November as to who that person will be for us," Gay said.
Murphy said they are asking for "a little bit" of financial help. He said personnel is covered, and there will be grant applications generated for equipment including surveillance equipment. Hesston Police has already made some donations, in the form of equipment, to the task force.
"We also have to have some money to make drug buys," Murphy said. "We have used forfeiture funds for that in the past."
Several members of the Newton, Hesston and Sedgwick police departments have gone to a two-day training for working on multi-jurisdictional cases and work.
And, members of task force departments will participate in next week's hot topic luncheon.